Chris Escobar, born in Milton, races a street legal 1986 Ford SVO and is close to breaking a seven second average quarter mile in the Tremec True Street drag racing event. His character is telling of why he has not broken this mark yet. "I wasn't trying to beat a record," Escobar said, regarding his last race in Mechanicsville, Maryland. He said the weather can change a tenth or two in time. "The car was going fast and my goal was just to win the race. My strategy was to err on the slow side so I didn't spin. It would have been like tripping at the start of a footrace," he said.
Escobar has been winning these drag races since 2004 missing only 3 years along the way. Escobar said he's been racing since he lived on Pace Lane at seven years old on a go-kart. Steve Sapp, general manager of Chris Escobar Racing USA, LLC said Escobar averaged nearly a full second faster than his closest competitor in the Tremec True Street race in Mechanicsville, Maryland, 8.042 seconds versus 8.902 seconds. Sapp, who is also Escobar's stepfather, said he remembers him racing before the go-kart, referencing his actions on a Big Wheel. Escobar said in his first GT he raced for the 15-second mark reaching speeds of 90 mph. "It was just all about having fun and being a kid." Now he races at 176 mph.
Escobar describes the True Street race as one people can feel they could really take part in because the race is broken up by seconds, from the purely fastest car down to 15 seconds. "In the past," he said, "It was all about money. The most money meant the fastest car." "If you're going for 15 seconds, you've got to be consistent. Fifteen seconds is closer to stock," he said. The purses for True Street races also show the low profile money has in the burgeoning sport. Escobar said they've only been $250 total.
The race itself tests a driver's steadiness and the car's durability. The race begins with a 30-mile tour. "Sometimes they'd take us through a city," Escobar said, "where we'd average maybe 40 mph or it would be mostly interstate." It leads directly into the three back-to-back quarter mile passes. Escobar noted a difference between True Street and other professional races saying True Street has virtually no cool-down time, while the pros may have the car towed back for the next pass. Escobar said True Street mimics a spontaneous red-light race.
Opening the hood, he said, or needing a jumpstart meant instant disqualification. "A lot of cars cannot make all three runs," he said. Escobar said he wins so consistently as a driver because for one, he examines the track before every race. "The track is always changing literally with every pass. If the track looks worse, I slow down. Most racers don't examine the track. They say, 'This is how I always do it,' so they don't change. Every car is fighting for traction. Golfers walk the whole course and that's what I do. I see what it can handle and tell the car how fast to go."
Escobar also said he's simplified his car as much as he can to reduce the number of buttons and switches he needs to activate before and during the race. "Commonly, racers will forget to do one of their switches or drop back into first gear after the burnout. I had a friend forget to set up his transmission. There are 100 things you need to do right. Forget one and you might lose half a second." Escobar went on to say, "I never made those mistakes. That's a major part of my record. I kept the car simple, like a street car." Escobar said he prefers automation and simplicity.
"You also need good people to help," he said. Ford, he said, gave him the engine he has in 2011, a 5.0 liter, 302 cubic inch Coyote. Escobar said, "We tore it apart and added rods, pistons, springs, and oil pump gears." His engine builder, Kris Starnes, he said, was able to get him his rods and pistons free and recently got a new block by Darton. "This engine is going way beyond what it was built for," Escobar said. He also gave credit to Brian Macy of Horsepower Connection and his Master Mechanic, Jake LaMotta of LaMotta Performance for his car's abilities. "There are no limitations on engine or weight, but I built it like I thought a real street racer ought to look. I built it way below the rules. There is no carbon fiber in this all-steel body. Turbos and computers make this possible."
Sapp said locals may soon get a chance to see Escobar race as the team is looking to race in Atmore on the eighth mile track. Sapp said the Poarch Creek Indians revamped the track and it's like new. Escobar's next event is the June 12 to 15 McLeod Racing NMRA Ford Super Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.